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The City of Gold and Lead
The City of Gold and Lead (book cover).jpg
Author John Cristopher
Publication date 1968
Publication Order
Preceded by
The White Mountains
Followed by
The Pool of Fire

The City of Gold and Lead is the second book of The Tripods trilogy, published 1968.


Will begins to train with other members of the resistance, hoping he will be able to compete in an upcoming annual sporting event, known as the "Games", for a chance to go to the City of the Tripods and gather information. Julius, the resistance leader, has concerns about Will's impulsiveness and lack of discipline, but Will promises to control himself. Beanpole and Fritz are chosen as well, but Henry is asked to stay and help at the base.

The boys board a barge downriver, the craft stopping in several places to do business. In one town, Will and Fritz, the other boy competing in the games, have to split up and track down Ulf, the barge captain, who is a heavy drinker, because they fear he'll say the wrong thing while drunk. While they're looking for him, Will gets in a fight and is sentenced to the Pit, a place where troublemakers are thrown to be pelted with various items. He can't climb out because of the spikes at the top of the pit, but Beanpole finds him and helps him out. The boys then have to build a raft to get the rest of the way to the games, as the barge has already left.

Along the way, they are surprised to meet a hermit named Hans, who despite being middle aged is not capped. Hans has lived all his life on a small island in the river. When his father died, Hans continued to live there alone, apart from a small village nearby, and thereby slipping through a crack in the Tripod's controlled social system. Despite his freedom, Hans is indifferent to the Tripods and only wants the boys to work hard in his farm to repay his generous gifts of food. With their mission being the highest priority, the boys are left with little choice but to make an escape, stealing Hans's boat and continuing on their journey to the Games.

At the games, Will and Fritz win their events, but Beanpole does not. Will and Fritz are taken to the city inside a Tripod, where the true nature of the Tripods is finally revealed. They are not mechanical gods, but vehicles piloted by a race of creatures from another world, who call themselves the Masters. Will quickly realizes how difficult conditions in the city are. The gravity is artificially increased, because the Masters originated on a planet with a higher gravity than Earth's. It is oppressively hot, and the Masters' air is poisonous to humans, so the servants must wear helmets with air scrubbers. The oppressive atmosphere takes a harsh toll on the servants and they all look much older than Will, even though they are only a few years older. Most of the slaves last only a couple of years before the city wears them out.

The boys are taken to a selection chamber where they wait in individual cells to be chosen by a Master. Will begins to fear he won't be chosen, but finally, he is selected. His duties as a slave include preparing meals, helping his Master bathe driving him around, running errands and serving as a companion. His Master frequently pets him with a tentacle, and Will equates himself to a dog first, then a cat. Will also does some nursing when his Master gets The Sickness, or the Curse of the Skloodzi, which makes him weak and turns his skin brownish. Will frequently brings him gas bubbles, a kind of drug the Masters inhale, to soothe him. Will is also forced to scratch his Master's skin, and during one of these sessions Will accidentally touches the area above the Master's mouth causing the alien to howl in pain and throw Will across the room. This incident reveals an important weak spot in the otherwise large and powerful bodies of the Masters.

Although Will's Master is relatively benevolent, he later learns that Fritz's is brutal and regularly beats him for no reason. Will has a hard time finding him in the city, but they eventually devise a way to meet and speak. Fritz learns little, but Will's Master reveals many of the aliens' secrets to him. He shows Will things like the Pyramid of Beauty, where the Masters preserve specimens of animal and human life for their own pleasure. Sadly, Will spots Eloise among the preserved humans. While the boys brought to the city serve the Masters as slaves, the girls are killed and the ones considered most beautiful by the Masters are preserved to display various traits like hair color, as a human would collect butterflies. Will also sees the Masters playing a sort of game called the Sphere Chase in an arena-like enclosure.

Will's Master also tells him of the Masters' journey to Earth and subsequent invasion with the use of mind control via television, and of their plan to transform Earth's atmosphere into one suitable for the Masters to breathe. He learns that the mothership with the equipment for the "Plan" will arrive in about four years' time. Will begins making plans to escape and get this information back to Julius. Will takes notes in secret of all the information he has learned about the Maters in the margins of some old books that his Master has allowed him to borrow from the city's archive.

Eventually, Will is forced to take action when his Master finds his writings in his refuge, the place where a servant can eat and sleep without needing the respirator helmet, and attempts to examine his Cap. Will punches him in the face, aiming for the sensitive spot he accidentally discovered before, and finds that a Master can be killed with a blow to this area. He flees along with Fritz and after a long and arduous search through the bowls of the city, escapes via the outlet pipe that releases water back into the river. Fritz, however, stays behind, planning to throw the Masters off Will's trail by telling them that Will has gone to the Place of Happy Release, that is, the city's death chamber, since his Master has died and he can no longer be of service. Fritz tells Will to wait three days outside or him to follow, but no longer, because it is crucial to report back to Julius all that they have learned.

Will emerges into the river but is close to suffocating being too weak to remove his helmet. Luckily Beanpole has been keeping watch outside the city and he manages to pull Will from the river cutting the helmet free and saving Will's life. They boys wait for the three days, but with no sign of Fritz, they wait for nine more days, and still Fritz does not emerge. With the weather turning cold and time growing short, they come to the inevitable conclusion that Fritz must be dead, and decide to give up and start their trek back to the hideout of the resistance in the White Mountains. Although Will is elated to be free of the Masters and the crushing gravity of their city, he is still weighed down by the sadness for the loss of Fritz.